Fruitless Religion

And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “ ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”

In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

(Matthew 21:14–16, 18-19 ESV)

While the people are rejoicing and celebrating the coming of Jesus of Nazareth into Jerusalem, the chief priests and scribes stand by in disgust at the display of the people.

These rabble, the people who are diseased, these uneducated children, the peasant disciples of Jesus–they are all so ignorant to the form of religion that they uphold! And Jesus, whom they assumed should know better, is unwilling to correct his misguided followers! Instead he continues quoting Scripture that affirms their worship of Jesus as the Messiah.

The next morning Jesus did something that is puzzling to many people. He came upon a fig tree along the side of the road and he found that it was barren of any figs. It had lots of leaves, but no fruit. With a word, he cursed the tree so that it withered and died.

Why did Jesus kill a tree? He did it for a profound reason. He killed the tree to show that those who make a show of their religion who have no evidence of the grace of God in their lives are worthless to Christ and they shall be judged. They might appear to be fruit filled because of the outward show of their religion, like a fruit tree with thick, green leaves. But leaves are not impressive to the hungry. And religious activity without a relationship with the Lord does not fool God.

In another place Jesus said these chilling words:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21–23, ESV

Religion doesn’t save. Only Jesus does. Church attendance, Bible reading, giving money, volunteering your time to good causes, being kind, saying prayers, all of these things do nothing to impress God.

When Christ gives new life, it is out of this new life that good works will flow (Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)).

But those who start with good works and then add God have dead religion that will not save them. It is like stapling figs to a tree. Make sure that your good works are the overflow of a life of worship and your relationship with the living Christ.

3 thoughts on “Fruitless Religion

  1. Hi Richard,

    That’s right. It’s a living religion that God is pleased with. So many wrongly pit religion and relationship.

    Thanks keep up the good writing!

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